Opening the Mind

I am using a good deal of my time during this enforced lock-down to read books, watch videos and write about growing as an individual and as a society. Lately I have discovered London Real, with Brian Rose who interviews a wide range of contemporary people on interesting, often controversial topics. A video lecture given by Graham Hancock led on to other videos and then his book, ‘America Before’. Various articles available through Medium.com, TED talks, ideas on minimalism and stoicism all became fodder for my investigations. Really, I feel like I am giving myself a crash course in living and life. And I am loving it.

There are so many philosophies, ideologies and theories floating around in today’s world. I could spend the rest of my life studying them and applying them to myself and my life. However, as I have gone through these past three months of investigation, I have noticed that while there are many differences, they are, really, all facets of the same gem we call life. The river flows over many different beds and at many different speeds, and though it is ever changing, it is the same river and no one part of it can define it completely.

The theory of Consciousness has been at the core of my investigations. Science is moving away from the theory that consciousness is ‘local’ as in, consciousness is located in our brain. Rather, from psychology to quantum physics, we are being shown, through logic and experiment, that our brain is more like a television receiver than a computer, and that it is constantly interacting with some sort of Consciousness. Some refer to it as the ‘morphic field’, ‘field of probabilities’, ‘unified field’ or simply, ‘the field’. Our thoughts and ideas, as they spring from this field, flood our receiving brain. We either capture them and use them or we dismiss them and, like a dream remembered upon awakening, they fade into oblivion.

Books like ‘The Secret’ and ‘Becoming Supernatural’, talk about taping into this field. Napoleon Hill’s 1937 classic ‘Think and Grow Rich’, though using different terminology, talks about this ‘field’. Spiritual literature speaks of the ‘realm of the spirit’ or of God. And I believe that they are all taking about the same thing. The idea, in many modes of expression, has been around going back to the ancients. There is nothing new here, but it seems that since the 18th century, science beat out spirituality with the notion that humans are the pinnacle of evolution and consciousness became confined to the body. We don’t need any god; science will provide the answers we need. It’s only in the past 40 years that there’s been some serious study as to the source of the Big C of consciousness.

Plato & Aristotle take a walk.

While it may seem like this is a battle between evolutionists and creationists, I assure you it is not. The discussion has come full circle as accredited scientists are demonstrating that there are things that cannot be explained alone by consciousness localized only in the brain. Einstein poked at the idea but when it came to a force that he couldn’t understand yet, he referred to it as ‘spooky action at a distance.’

Probably the greatest lesson that I have learned in the last three months is that I don’t know much, and that there are a lot that humans understand neither themselves nor our universe. Meanwhile, it is fun to explore new ideas and theories and not be tied by definitions that I was taught well, a lot of years ago. You might enjoy the movie ‘What the {%&@$#} Do We Know’, available on YouTube. It is a good jumping off point to going down the proverbial rabbit hole of new discoveries. Or if you wish, a short, easy to follow explanation of the famous ‘Double-Slit Experiment.’

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 There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy…Hamlet

I heard a friend say that by the end of this whole Covid 19 thing we will end up at Drunks, Chunks or Hunks; the choice is our own. A Netflix binge is okay once in a while, but I prefer more active thinking and learning. Who knows what we might learn or down which rabbit hole it might lead? All it takes is an open mind!

Meditation…

I have tried meditation various times over the years and just couldn’t seem to get the knack of it. You see, I cannot fold myself into the lotus position, at least not without breaking at least one leg. And sitting cross-legged is also very difficult for me, especially after more that just a couple of minutes. So I figured if my body wasn’t designed to do meditation. I know this was just an excuse but I never really gave it much of a serious thought or any sort of a concerted effort.

There are many methods of meditation. As a teenager, I remember that Transcendental Meditation (TM) was big. Everyone who was anyone was taking the course and learning their mantras. For most North Americans, it was the first time Eastern philosophy was ever discussed and practiced. Later, other practices of meditation were sought out and taught. Some meditate by focusing on their breathing. Others focus on an object, or use prayer beads to quiet their minds. I like Eastern spirituality and I understand the appeal of Buddhism and its teachings. But the Buddhas, the gongs, the incense, its prayer wheels and flags, could not keep me in a practice of meditation. And yet, I knew that I wanted it, and probably needed it!

Why do people meditate? It relaxes the body and mind, thereby reducing the negative stress and anxiety that we experience. As well, scientific research is proving that it has a physiological effect on the body. It can change our body chemistry, releasing dopamine and other ‘feel good’ molecules into our bloodstream. Creativity, attention and memory are positively influenced. You don’t have to meditate for hours on end to enjoy the benefits and they last long after the quiet time we spend. Meditation changes you: body and soul! (Forbes Magazine: 7 Ways Meditation can Actually Change the Brain.)

So even though I knew about all these benefits, it wasn’t until a good friend of mine introduced me to a book by Sam Harris: Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion, that everything finally clicked into place for me. I still haven’t finished the book but I appreciate his very practical approach to spirituality and to meditation. I downloaded the meditation app and started using its guided meditations. I think it’s about ten free sessions before they ask you to pay up, but for me, it is well worth it. I finished the 50, ten minute beginner sessions and now usually use the daily meditation, between 10 and 20 minutes long.

After more than three months, meditation is part of my morning routine, along with daily writing and, of course, coffee. Do I see and feel the benefits? While I can’t say that I feel my brain cells growing and changing, I can say that I appreciate the calm, the quiet, and the peace. Some days it takes longer than others to calm the thoughts and focus on just breathing. It’s common that I find myself deep in some thought and Sam’s voice will reach out of the silence to tug me back to this moment. There are days where I become mesmerized by the dance of colours that I see behind my eyelids. Fortunately, there’s no graduation from this practice. It is a daily practice that I invite you to enjoy as much as I do.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Find what type of meditation works best for you. If you want to sit cross-legged and burn incense, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. You need only find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed for a few moments. And you can meditate at any time of the day. Hey, if you find that you really do ‘wake up’ at the end of the session, you won’t be the first to have fallen asleep. There is no wrong way. There is only the embrace of the stillness that is within us all.

I first heard this ‘prayer’ in the Waking Up sessions. I have incorporated it into my daily practice. And it is my wish for you:

May you be happy.   
May you be free from suffering.   
May you know peace.

The Creative Journal

Writing is part of my daily ritual. I wake up at 6 am. It’s not that early here. In the tropics, the length of day doesn’t change much between the solstices, so there’s plenty of daylight year round at this hour. I set the water to boil, prepare the filter and grounds for coffee and sit out on the deck while I wait. Here I say an opening greeting to the day and enjoy the quiet for a few minutes until the water boils. I make my coffee and I sit down to my writing.

I took up writing first thing in the morning about five years ago. It began while reading a book on developing creativity: “The Artist’s Way”, by Julia Cameron. In this text, which is part course, part workbook and part inspiration, she suggests that everyone write their ‘morning papers’. Here one can jot down thoughts, ideas, plans, a description of last night’s dreams, or vent on an issue and get it all out. She suggests to the reader that writing three pages of handwritten script every day is one of the best practices to increase creativity levels.

I admit I haven’t always been faithful to the practice. Some days, there’s a change in how need to plan my morning. Other days I get immediately involved in something and I forget. Once in a while I don’t think I have time (because I turned off the alarm and suddenly it was 7:30!) And until a few months ago, I had dropped the practice completely for almost a year.

I am grateful that I was inspired to return to the daily writing. It does a number of things for me. First and foremost for me, writing sets a good tone for the day. Rather than pop into social media or the news, I pop into myself. I am present with the now. I write about what I am thinking. I write about my challenges. I write about what I love and what I hate. I write about what I would prefer for the future. Sometimes it is philosophical, sometimes spiritual and sometimes it’s a rant from a seven year old kid complaining that things aren’t going the way that he wants them to go. It’s all over the place. And that’s okay. I write what is and try to be non-judgmental about it all.

Second, journal writing helps me to bring things into perspective. Those unassailable problems of life suddenly deflate to their proper size when I write about them. What has been a tornado of thoughts in my head about what is happening around me suddenly calms down into a few sentences that I can review and realize, ‘This is all it really is?’ Suddenly the problem becomes manageable because I know what it actually is: I’ve given the problem definition and thereby a way to find a solution.

Third, morning papers allow me to explore. I’m able to explore new ideas and thoughts about how things work, about what happened yesterday and why I reacted as I did. Exploration may entice me look later for articles or videos on a subject. They give me permission to go deeper into a subject that, honestly, I know I won’t do if I don’t set aside the time.

Gratuitous doggie photo.

The 45 or 50 minutes that it takes usually flies by, but some mornings it is like pulling teeth to think about something and I end up by describing what the dogs are doing or what I need to buy at the grocery store. And that’s okay too. I have learned that I need to be faithful to the practice and that what I am writing doesn’t have to be perfect. I can be patient with myself as well. It very rare for me to even look back over old entries. I just need to get this stuff out and down on paper. And when I start writing the date at the top of the page, I never have any idea how it’s going to end when I finish that day’s entry.

As for the benefits of this morning writing? It allows me to start the day and choose the direction I want it to go in. If I start with some negative stuff, I can end it with some positive stuff. I always end with a statement about something for which I am grateful to have in my life. I have made some good insights into myself and life while writing. Not all earth shattering, but important to me and in the coming day.

Journal writing, creative or otherwise, may not be for everyone, but I still challenge you to take the time to do a bit more research on this subject before you discard it completely. There are many ways of working a journal and morning writing, everything from just jotting down points to full on grammar and punctuation perfect. Whatever works for you. After a short while, I know you will be glad you started.